Brandon Lewis has been named the new Northern Ireland Secretary after Julian Smith was sacked as part of the prime minister’s cabinet reshuffle.
Mr Smith was appointed in July 2019, taking over from Karen Bradley, and oversaw talks that led to Northern Ireland parties agreeing a deal to restore a power-sharing government at Stormont. He has also been praised for his role in helping legislation to provide compensation to historical abuse victims pass through parliament.
Brandon is the fourth NI Secretary in under four years.
Leaving the post, Julian said: “Serving the people of Northern Ireland has been the biggest privilege. I am extremely grateful to Boris Johnson for giving me the chance to serve this amazing part of our country. The warmth & support from people across NI has been incredible. Thank you so much.”
Taking up the new post Brandon Lewis said on Twitter: “I am honoured to have been appointed Secretary of State for Northern Ireland by the Prime Minister. This is an exciting time for Northern Ireland & I follow fantastic colleagues as predecessors, whose work I hope we can continue to build on.”
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar paid tribute to Smith: “In 8 months as Secretary of State, Julian you helped to restore powersharing in Stormont, secured an agreement with us to avoid a hard border, plus marriage equality. You are one of Britain’s finest politicians of our time. Thank you.”
Tánaiste Simon Coveney said Mr Smith had been “such an effective secretary of state for NI at a time of real challenge and risk”.
He added: “Without your leadership I don’t believe NI would have a government today.
“Thank you Julian Smith for your trust, friendship and courage; the UK and Ireland can look to the future with more confidence because of it.”
DUP leader Arlene Foster said she had spoken to Mr Smith on Thursday morning to thank him for his help in getting devolution restored.
“We may not have always agreed (we did sometimes) but his dedication to the role was incredible,” she said.
Sinn Féin deputy leader Michelle O’Neill said she was writing to the government for an urgent meeting with the incoming secretary of state.
“In that meeting, Sinn Féin will take the opportunity to raise the financial commitments made by the British government in the New Decade New Approach agreement only weeks ago,” she said.
“Reports from London that Julian Smith was sacked as a result of commitments made to bring forward legislation to implement the legacy bodies agreed at Stormont House are very concerning for victims of the conflict and their families.”
In a tweet, SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said that “sacking the most successful secretary of state in a decade shows Johnson’s dangerous indifference to us”.
Ulster Unionist leader Steve Aiken said no-one could question Mr Smith’s dedication to the job: “Julian Smith`s successor should take a leaf out of his book and spend time in Northern Ireland getting to know the place and its people,” he said.
“The last thing Northern Ireland needs is a Boris Johnson ‘yes’ man or woman.”
The chairman of campaign group Survivors North West, Jon McCourt, paid tribute to Mr Smith and tweeted that the abuse compensation legislation would “not have crossed the line without your committed and passionate support”.
Brandon Lewis had been serving as Minister for State for Security.